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To Walt Whitman in Heaven by Betsy Sholl

To Walt Whitman in Heaven

by Betsy Sholl

from her book Late Psalm


Things that look good and aren't: high fashion,

Manifest Destiny, limp wires the electrician thinks

are dead till he grabs hold and then, O Infinite—

coursing-through-finite—thank God his spastic dance


is only a shock—one yelp and he shakes

it off. Not so easy for the girl next door

feeling her first kiss begin to fester

as the young man's buddies drive by hooting


and one calls out, how far did ya get? Whadda we owe? It's enough to make everything

look bad. So, a list then of what turns out

to be good: the loud-mouthed parrot


down the block that scared off two robbers,

the junior prom I spent alone in my room

reading you, Walt Whitman, your great

barbaric yawp entering my mind like salt


water coursing through fresh, stinging my wounds,

till every image was sharp—the lunatic,

the lily-faced boy in the makeshift hospital,

contralto, runaway, cloud scud, your voice


whispering through sea spray to ferry crowds,

just as you feel, so I felt ... What doesn't change

and remain, remain and grow strange? The lace

bodice from my mother's slip my daughter


now sews onto the cuffs of her new jeans,

the crooked front tooth that has traveled through

how many kisses from my mother's mouth

to mine, and on to my son. What is a list?


The neighbor girl goes through her catalog

of moves under the hoop—sky hooks, lay-ups,

fall-away jumpers. Long after dark, she's out there

dribbling her heart on the asphalt, tossing it up,


nothing but net. Painful, yes, but how else

will she get to that sweet agony within,

your great loitering contradictions? She dodges

and spins, as if shedding a skin, steps around


the driveway to keep the motion light flaring

as she passes from shadow into Technicolor,

banks a shot, jabs the air to cheer herself on,

point guard, center and crowd all in one,


and I almost see you in the dark,

on the fringe, though I can hardly say what

you mean, in the sweet mysterious night vapor

hovering over blacktop and lamp-green lawn.




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